What iNaturalist is for

When I read the forum topics I can’t help but notice there are often complaints about ‘dumb’ users who misidentify, lack of quality, ways to restrict research grade to experts,…

As one of those non-professionals who is passionate about nature and a great fan of iNaturalist I find this unsettling.

iNaturalist is promoted as a citizen science project. On the site the project is described as: “iNaturalist is an online social network of people sharing biodiversity information to help each other learn about nature” and " It’s NOT a science project".

I can see how iNat can be a useful tool for scientists, but if it is promoted as a citizen science project and scientists reap the fruits of it, I feel the ‘citizens’ should not be forgotten and should at least get some respect, if only for their willingness to contribute.


Well said!

So many people come to iNaturalist to use it as a tool for what they do, and then fall into the trap of thinking it is exclusively a tool for what they do!




Over the years I’ve started running into iNat’s limitations, and have a few things I dislike about the way this or that is done. But I stick with it because it is still by far the best place to upload an image of a random organism in the hopes of getting an improved ID, keeping track of all my sightings for personal use, or to record what I saw for others who might have a use for it one day. The fact that there are people who take the time to complain about things shows how much they care about this project, even if they are a jerk about it.


I think those written descriptions narrow it way more than it should be but the root problem here is people just need to not be rude or harass others because they personally don’t find the data valuable. If there’s something major wrong use data quality assessment and you can reach out to the user but be nice! There’s been a real disheartening increase in people getting scolded over photos not being “good enough” and things like that. It needs to stop.


I’ve just started using iNaturalist, originally as part of the Cities in Nature weekend. I really didn’t understand the app and am just learning. I was told it was a useful way to identify things that you might not know or be sure about. I’m beginning to realise that there is a lot more to it and hope that eventually I will understand more.


I just looked at your list of observations, and you’re off to a great start. If you have access to a computer, I would recommend exploring the website as well as the app, because there is so much more on there than the app. And keep checking this forum. Welcome!


I do agree with the sentiments and we should certainly not be taking it out on the community. That said, there are a some very important reasons why we need to be worried about the ID quality. The two below should illustrate the point well enough.

  1. The observations are called “research grade” when they are not actually research grade. A term like “community reviewed” would be much more accurate. I feel like the data is being treated (at least partially) as research grade because…
  2. These observations are sent to GBIF and are searchable through their records. They are also searchable through SEINet. These databases have been previously restricted to museum specimens reviewed by curators and observations from experts in the field. In my mind, this gives us an added layer of responsibility to make sure the data we’re sending on is accurate.

Keep in mind that there are two parts to citizen science. If you focus only on the citizen, you’re just a social networking site. If you focus only on the science, you lose a lot of interest. We have to maintain a balance. How the data is maintained really does have consequences down the line. What you are seeing in the forum is mostly the community trying to find solutions to this problem.


If you’re interested in nature, iNaturalist is the place to be. The site and the app do make sense. Just give it a little time and you’ll get the hang of it.


I agree! I joined Inaturalist in 2017. I am no professional. I do not claim to be.
I have had a few, not so nice comments because I would not agree to an identification only after two or three days. I was very new and this was my reply: I do not want to agree to something just because you say it is this. You may be correct but I want to find information on how to know if it is correct)
. I do look online often. I come up with nothing. I then go to others, I am following to see a comparison sometimes.
I am just an average person, who loves to find insects and find out what they could be.
I hold no degree. I just like nature. I have even opted to stop using iNat, due to the fact, I do not know facts of the things I come across. This is one of the reasons I joined so I could find out. I have found many cool insects for our area that have not been seen a lot or should I say the iNaturalist map only shows a few seen on the entire state of TX map. I try to better myself. Again, I am no scientist. I also may have a lot of things I have found and posted in a two year period, but I am still just an amateur. I truly do not know the scientific names of the body parts of the things I find. Not for a lack of trying to find them.
I will not kill or harm anything to get a better photo. If everyone did that we could be hurting something that is going extinct or it could be the last of its species.
I am thankful to all who have been kind and patient.
I also thought by adding what I find, how it could maybe help Scientist and Biologist and more, figure out why we are seeing a lack of birds or fish or insects in an area that was once abundant or the reverse, lack of.


yeah, that’s definitely the exact opposite of what people should be doing.


I think there should be some kind of penalty for pressuring people to agree with something and giving them a time limit. And for other types of aggression.


Please don’t stop using iNat because someone is putting undue pressure on you. You are the one acting correctly. If someone is harassing you, there is a section on your Account Settings page where you can link to a description of how to block or mute someone, and what the standards for that are. You sound like the type of person iNaturalist really needs.


if you are at the point you have to block someone please also consider reporting it to help@inaturalist.org or flagging it. Even if it doesn’t bother you, they are probably driving other users away also.


Thank you for this topic! It is definitely a needed “head-check” for the whole community.

As with any discussion forum on the Internet, discussions here can become passionate and parochial. But there is never any excuse for disrespecting other community members. I think this community does better than most, but it takes some vigilance.

I think it is safe to assume that 99+% of the folks here are on board with the stated purpose(s) of iNaturalist. And when discussions veer off into the weeds around how to tweak or improve things here and there, for the benefit of one constituency or another, we sometimes forget to remind ourselves of that often enough.

So thanks for the reminder! I take the passion as evidence of how much we all value and adore this site, mostly for the best reasons.


After reading this it seems like its best to leave IDs blank if you’re unsure, but in the past I’ve filled them in with the first suggestion made by iNaturalist because the website warns you that your observation is less likely to be viewed if the ID is left blank. What do you guys think about this?


If anyone experiences this type of behavior, or other behavior that violates community guidelines, please flag the comment and/or email help@inaturalist.org so it can be investigated and possibly consequenced. Pressuring someone to agree to an ID is not only rude and unwelcoming, it’s not great science either. If someone is doing this to you, it’s likely they are doing this to others, as @charlie has said.


Thank you @tiwane. I was polite and I just let it go. No flags needed. I figured I would most likely experience this a few more times in the future. I am learning everyday. I love iNaturalist. I tell many about how cool it is and I love looking at the things people see, not just in Texas but all around the world. I even comment on others photos because I am in awe of what they witnessed. Hopefully people will remember what this site is intended for. I too believe getting the proper identification is a must. It may take a few days or maybe a month or more but I am sure it will get taken care of.


It’s best not to leave it blank because that causes problems when people don’t know which organism in a photo you want an identification for. If you think you know the species, go ahead and put it in even if you’re not totally sure. If you don’t know the species you can put in a higher-level identification, even if it’s only “plants” or “animals” or “reptiles” etc. Unless you really think the first suggestion on iNaturalist looks like your organism, you shouldn’t rely on it, because it is often wrong (still in training). That’s my opinion, anyway.


If I am unsure, I put it under what it is, as in an insect a plant, birds, especially if it is a new one for me. I do not always trust what is picked for me by the photos and names that pop up. Sometimes I have put it under what I think it looks like, for an example, instead of just a zelus, I place it under Pale Green Assassin bug if that is what I think it is. Most times I’ll just place it under the other if I am unsure. Still learning and I welcome information.